Crime, drugs, and structured dissociation are among topics discussed with filmmaker Stefanie Joshua about her new film, Bushwick Homecomings: The Record [Video Discussion]
Following is an abbreviated transcript from filmmaker and documentarian, Stefanie Joshua’s interview with Luvon Roberson, What’s The 411’s art and culture correspondent.
Luvon: With me tonight is Stefanie Joshua, who's the filmmaker of Bushwick Homecomings: The Record. So, Stefanie, welcome.
Stefanie: Thank you very much.
Luvon: I want to jump right in with the why. Why this film, Bushwick Homecomings: The Record 10 years after your first film (Bushwick Homecomings) which also looked at gentrification in Bushwick?
Stefanie: Well, I would say that gentrification is a theme in the film, but it touches on so much more attention on people's lives specifically a small cohort of people who were in the original film. But the reason why a few different reasons. One, the timing was right. I made the first film in 2006 and the film had a lot of kind of prophecies of what might happen in that 10-year period and so it was natural that at some point that I revisit this to see actually what did happen. Is what was projected to happen did that come to fruition? So that was the first reason, another reason was that there had been some occurrences in the community in Bushwick in terms of changes, you know, it's part of the film the second part of the film opens with the declaration of Vogue for claiming Bushwick as the 7th coolest place in the world. Vogue magazine and some other things that occurred in Bushwick and if you grew up in New York, if you're familiar, if you grew up in Brooklyn, you know. And, most people tell me, my friends who lived in Bed-Stuy and East New York and Brownsville, I kind of consider them the cousins of Brooklyn (Bushwick). They even thought that Bushwick like in the hierarchy of things, you know, they felt like Bushwick, it's kind of at the low end of the totem pole and that says a lot. So to go from that to being the seventh coolest place in the world by Vogue, which they proclaimed I think in 2016 and then the massive, you know changes and shifts in population, which I kind of follow and incorporate into the film. I knew that this was the time to revisit this topic and kind of check back in on what's going on in Bushwick.
Luvon: In that film, that first film which was about what 12 years ago, 2006?
Luvon: Okay, you feature five young black men who tell their story of Bushwick in the 1970s 1980s and what was going on. How did they come to be in your first?
Stefanie: Okay. Well at the time that I made the first film I was completing, I was in graduate school and I was completing my master's degree in sociology and social research, specifically. It was at City College, and you know, shout out to City College, they have an amazing sociology program and I was first inspired by a paper I had to write there. It was a pretty famous class. I think it still runs at City College. It's called People of the City of New York, and this class asked each person to study a group and you had to produce a pretty lengthy paper. And, in creating that paper, it sparked my interest in what kind of motivated change within communities. And, I was sociology major. I was doing my research in delinquency and specifically, I was interested in learning about…I had a friend who was, who I guess was superficially successful, had gone to a really good school. We were having a conversation about why he had success versus others who did not have as much success. He really attributed it to the school he went to and some other things and I thought about it. I thought some of it has to do with where you lived and what came across your path. I think that so many people are bright and gifted but when you live in a neighborhood where there are so many obstacles, you know, crime, other things that change your trajectory. It's not the only thing but it does impact your trajectory. So that interested me. And, so I was writing a paper about delinquency and studying what were the causes for young men, because delinquencies, most predominantly involve young men. Crime. Why? What were the triggers for people to, young men to be involved in crime and have these records? You know criminal records. So, in studying that topic, I interviewed a lot more people. But the five in the film, many of them don't have a history with crime, but I wanted to ask them the same questions and develop a pattern of what they all experience and how it may have impacted outcomes, impacted their opportunities. So that was the original paper and studying their experiences, growing up, taking the train to school going through Broadway Junction on the L, J A, C-line in Brooklyn. That's how that paper began and I felt like it would make a good visual narrative, a story. And, in writing my thesis, this is my Master's thesis, I recorded all of the interviews because I knew it would be easier for me to transcribe it if I had recorded them.
Luvon: So, how did these particular five men, I want to cut to the chase because when you see which I know you will What's The 411 viewers, when you see it, it's on the festival circuit now, Bushwick Homecomings: The Record.
But these five black young black men, you talk about some of them being drug dealers. Some of them being drug users. Some of them selling guns. They talk about the crack epidemic. They talked about how violent it was. So how did they come to be publicly sharing all of that?
Stefanie: You know, they all agreed, and I explained the project to them. So, in understanding that this might be a film project and I had taken a film course, a couple of editing courses, I explained that this would potentially be a film not knowing that if I can make it. But, I had recorded it and let them know. What I looked for in who I put, who I chose to participate, up in the final kind of cut was I wanted to ensure that all of the participants had grown up in Bushwick and we're still living there at the time that the film was shot because I wanted to kind of establish a consistency in their story. Some of the men had moved away, you know, some weren't born there. So that was how I came about the selection and also, you know, some of the stories had aspects that really help to support creating that narrative of what was happening in Bushwick at that time.
Luvon: Absolutely, which is how we can be thankful to them that they were willing to share so publicly about having run drugs. Use drugs. Sold drugs. Carried guns. We are very thankful that they shared their story.
Luvon: And, I just wanted to find out the process by which you went and you told me some of it. And so we'll move off that to something else because you talk about how you retreated in that time. One of the young men says, every night there were gunshots you went to bed hearing those gunshots, every night in Bushwick.
Luvon: Which sounds like a war zone and I think one of the young men actually use that word, you know that term war zone. You say though, that you retreated. And you became a stay-at-home bookworm. But, you also say for others, especially young black men, that wasn't an option.
Luvon: So tell me about that.
Stefanie: Okay, and I do want to say I knew everyone that I interviewed in that film, that's how I was connected with them. I grew up in Bushwick. So, I don't, if you didn't grow up in Bushwick, I don't think that you could have made that film because they need to, they need to trust and know who you are. So I knew everyone there.
Luvon: Did your brother know them because later on, you mentioned something about your brother. He called you up and told you about Pooh Bear.
Luvon: Where they your brother's running buddies? Or, were they sort of like you know people around the neighborhood.
Stefanie: Yeah, you know in your area; Bushwick is a community that you didn’t go there unless you lived there. So I knew every…these are people I went to school with my family knew there's a certain trust that that what so when I was making this project and said, hey, will you do this? I think there's a certain amount of trust because holding I live there
Luvon: Props to you. Yeah.
Stefanie: Thank you. So going back to my story and sharing that I kind of retreated. I was, I call myself a nerd. I was a nerd. I like, I did like to study. I did spend a lot of time doing my homework and my mother was fairly strict too. So, we weren't able to hang out late. And, most people, after dark, they were not out in Bushwick. Even if you live there. I do think that as a woman, as a female especially, back then this is an aspect in the first film.
- Published in Film News and Interviews